Alderman Proposes Tax on Sugary Drinks to Help Fix City Budget

The proposal calls for a tax of one penny per ounce of a sugary drink

Ald. George Cardenas submitted a proposal to City Council Wednesday to help tackle the city budget and simultaneously decrease obesity rates in the city.

The alderman proposed a tax of one penny per ounce of each sugary drink, meaning a 64-ounce soda, for example, would cost an additional 64 cents. The tax would apply to syrup and powders as well as canned and bottled drinks.

Ald. Cardenas argues the benefit would not only be to the health of Chicago residents, particularly children, but the tax could also generate $134 million a year.

"I'd rather have this than the red light cameras that everybody hates to be honest with you," Ald. Cardenas said. "That's the type of policy that to me makes sense."

A similar resolution was proposed to City Council three years ago by Ald. Cardenas to curb consumption of sugary drinks and promote health, but it did not pass.

The new proposal would create a fund with 75 percent of the sugary drink tax money used to help improve "early childhood health and wellness" at Chicago Public Schools.

Opponents of the proposed tax say that a new law is not the answer to curbing childhood obesity and improving the health of Chicago residents. Jim Soreng, executive director of the Illinois Beverage Association, said the rule could have a negative impact on the industry that plays an "essential" role in Chicago's economy.

"Chicago has uniquely had a tax on soft drinks since 1992," Soreng said in a statement. "It has clearly not impacted obesity. Let's work together to find real solutions that address the nation's health problems while ensuring important industries in the city are not stunted by punitive, ineffective taxes."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not indicated a strong stance either way, but he has certainly indicated that he is listening to Cardenas' proposal.

"I'm proud that he brought an idea forward and that people will analyze their opinions and ask questions of it," Emanuel said.

The city of Berkeley, Calif., was the first to impose a tax on sugary drinks, which began in January.

Ald. Cardenas' proposal will first need to pass through a committee before the City Council can vote on it.

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